96. Do you have a seat at the table?

As a young child, I was brought up to always eat my meals around the table and on Sundays and special occasions I would often help in setting the table. I have always enjoyed the aesthetics of a beautifully ordained table, almost as much as eating the flavourful food on it. But tables are more than just food servers, tables are all about expressing love. John Ortberg in his new book, ‘I’d like you more if you were ore like me’, starts his introduction with the metaphor of a table, to illustrate the importance of intimacy.

We have an old oak table that we bought years ago in Glasgow, from a shop called the ‘den of antiquity.’ It was made from recovered wood used in old piers from the docks and has that well used look about it. We have had it for 23 years now. It is quite a large table and fits six comfortably but often extends to 10. Over the years we have had literally thousands of guests eating at that table. Young and old, mature and emerging leaders and people from diverse cultures and languages have sat around that table and enjoyed delicious meals, laid out with care and creativity. If the table could talk, it would share the most amazing stories of lives that have been sold out for Jesus and the miracles that have taken place.

Acts 2:42 speaks of the early church activity around tables – ‘All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.’Love and intimacy are not automatic outcomes of meals shared around tables but the potential is there if we take the initiative.

The Fathers Table: Jesus tells the story of a son who asked his father for an early inheritance and went to a distant land where over some time he squandered it all away. One day, as he is destitute, alone and hungry, he has the realisation that his fathers’ servants are better off than he is and as a result, starts making his way home. He practices his home coming speech on route – of not being worthy to be a son!  But his father sees him from a distance and starts running to welcome him. Rather than keep the matter quiet in a small family affair to cover up the shame of the son, the father declares a feast to the entire community. He welcomes his son, kills the fattened calf, puts a ring on his finger, a robe around his neck and pulls a chair up to the table. As a son he always has a seat at his father’s table.

During the LDC we love to set up a live version of the fathers table, brimming with fruit and tasty treats of all kinds. In the atmosphere of worship and adoration, we invite individuals when they are ready, to come and take a seat at the table. It can be an overwhelming experience as we look at the feast laid before us and recognise that ‘this is set for me.’ Where there is any sense of inadequacy, lack of identity, feelings of rejection, or clouds of failure, the father comes to us as we sit down and pours his love over us, covering our sin and shame. There is inclusion at the table. There is forgiveness at the table. There is intimacy at the table. Finally I can simply be me.

The table of hospitality: When we think of hospitality, our first thoughts are of delicious food. Jesus tells us that it can simply be a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty. I think we all know that hospitality is so much more than food and drink – it’s having that welcoming spirit, that open heart, creating a warm atmosphere for people to relax and be at peace. When the early church met from house to house, there was a bonding around the table as they shared meals and the Lord’s supper together.  Around a table that is set with a heart of love and care, we can let our guards down. We find ourselves sharing things that are deep and meaningful. It’s somehow easier to be vulnerable and share from our hearts around a meal. The table offers a relational environment where we are all on the same level. We can share mutually and bring encouragement to one another.

The table and intimacy: After Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he journeyed with a couple of disciples who were heading home to Emmaus. They talked about the happenings of the previous week and their inability to understand what and why everything had taken place in the way it did. They were left discouraged and deflated. Jesus began sharing with them and taught from the scriptures why all these things had to be. These two disciples were so drawn to this companion on the road, that they pressed him to continue sharing over a meal in their home. It was as they were eating and sharing communion together at table that their eyes were opened to recognise Jesus and suddenly he was gone. They recount – ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road.’  Sitting around tables can bring the most wonderful encounters with Jesus – those everyday ordinary activities of eating can be the most wonderful experiences of his presence.

Jesus desires to sit at our table: In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, ‘“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.’  Saying grace often has become a formality before we get stuck into the main reason of sitting down – to eat!  But perhaps if the table could speak it would be suggesting that this is a time to slow down, to pause, to take a moment to invite Jesus to come and share the meal with us. With a little focus we can open up conversation that goes much deeper than ‘sports, politics and the current weather today!’

The Lord’s supper: We have established a tradition over the last 10 years of sharing communion on a regular basis as a couple, as a team and as a retreat community. We like to see the elements of bread and wine shared as part of the meal, just as Jesus demonstrated in the upper room. As we pause over meals together, we read a verse or two, share a thought and ask a question that draws out everyone around the table to speak or pray in response. These have been very precious times.

The date night table: For the last 39 years Rite and I have enjoyed fondue as a meal that we take time over to chat about our lives, what we are learning, how we are growing and what to do with the challenges we are facing.  It has become a sacred meal for us that is very meaningful and has lots of wonderful memories. Customs like this help us gear up to talk and focus on important areas of our lives and provide that communication point in the week where we can focus on one another.

Making room at the table: Jesus shared the last supper with his team. Eating together had become a part of their rhythm – we often think of Jesus eating his way through the gospel. If we don’t eat together as leadership teams, we are missing out on a very relational, intimate activity that will enhance our team life like nothing else. As we develop our teams with breadth of age, culture, gender and gifting, we make room at the table for a diversity of individuals. This is where there is equality at the table. We share together as men and women who love Jesus.

I remember my first time in Canada, where I was invited to eat with Rite’s family. It was very different to my own experience. She had three brothers and a sister and as I sat down, i realised that I had to develop a new skill of entering into a family and listen and interact with seven people who were all talking at the same time. To my surprise, my mother in law to be, stopped the conversation and said, ‘everyone stop talking, let’s hear what Stephe has to say.’ As an introvert, I wanted the floor to open up and eat me but instead all eyes were on me to hear some pearls of wisdom!  I have never forgotten that moment and in a sense it has taught me the importance of being ready at all times to start meaningful conversation at the table. Those who know me will often find me asking questions at table that seek to draw us out a little deeper into sharing our lives together.

So I would encourage you to see your meals as a sacred place for meaningful interaction and allow your table to create an environment for you to experience new depths of intimacy with the guests you invite around your table.

Until next month,

Stephe

 

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